Confidence tricks

Confidence is a strange thing. You might find sometimes that you don’t have enough…and other times get accused of having a little too much. Matt Guarente argues that the trick is to be patient.

How confident are you? Perhaps that needs a little context. How confident are you making small talk with your CEO before others join a Teams call? How confident are you to put up a shelf? Or go on tonight’s news and talk about a difficult issue?

Last week we were working on behalf of a major bank who wanted to give some bright young undergraduates, who hope to win internships, a little more self-confidence. They were in fact already quite confident but didn’t think that they were. They were certainly more open, and poised, and willing to offer ideas, than I was at 20. But it prompted a conversation with a colleague after the session ended; what does confidence really mean?

Competence tested

Part of it, for sure, is a competence issue. How would I rate my confidence to put up a bookshelf? Let’s say it’s 70%. I’m reasonably confident I can do it. But let’s add some extra risk that requires higher competence: will I drill into an electric cable? Will it hold all those heavy art gallery guides? Given those extra issues, now it’s down to (I’ll be honest) less than 50%. Faced with higher required competence, my confidence fades.

People who are asked to deliver high-stakes communications have wavering and varied views on their own ability to do it well. Very occasionally, their perception is too high; mostly, it’s too low. We often define confidence (in communications terms) as knowing what comes next. But it’s probably more useful to determine it as not being worried about what comes next – because you have the competence to deal with it.

Let me give you an example. You prepare, script, edit, create bullet points, practice and become very confident with a speech you’re giving. Great. You did the right things. You may be a little nervous, but that’s good: adrenaline gives you focus and shows you care about doing it right.

But after you finish, someone asks you a question, and it all goes quiet. Your brain races. You even forget the question. Your brain is not like a well-ordered file server, delivering the perfect response in nanoseconds. It needs time to process, to fish out the right response. But you’re under pressure to answer, and in the time you think you have available, you don’t have the competence – or confidence – to answer.

The noise you now make is probably ‘Uhhhh…’.

However, the point is, you DO have the competence to do this, but only if you are brave enough to wait, and then you will be able to manufacture a confident response. Your unconscious brain is working hard to process the language of the question (about 50% of its processing ability) and then it jogs off to find the best answer. So the confidence gap, really, is trusting it to do its stuff.

The noise you will probably make if you are convinced of the above is ‘Okay…’. Then you’ll start your response.

Riding the wave

The competence required to field a random question is not different to that required for the speech you’ve already given. And in fact, for most questions you’ll be asked in this situation, the response is already out there – you just delivered it.

A lot of the time, confidence is just elusive. It comes and goes, up and down, often rapidly, often in the same communication. We often hear ‘I did most of that okay but was terrible on that last bit’. But bear in mind that your competence is pretty constant; and confidence is knowing that you can re-capture it, even when it temporarily abandons you.

If you would like to know more about how Bladonmore can help you and your team grow your confidence in high-pressure settings then please get in touch.

  • Sign up for our latest news & views

Let’s talk about your story